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Masters extends rare special invitation to recent winner on Japan Golf Tour (Just not the one you’re thinking of)

Arep Kulal/Asian Tour
Shugo Imahira of Japan picture during the first round of the 2018 BNI Indonesian Masters.

By Alex Myers
The Masters extended a rare special invitation on Tuesday to a Japan Golf Tour winner. It’s just not the one you’re probably thinking of.

Augusta National Golf Club announced Shugo Imahira has accepted a spot in this year’s Masters. Imahira, 26, won the Japan Golf Tour’s order of merit in 2018 and is currently No. 53 in the Official World Golf Ranking.

“Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts established the Masters as a global sporting event, so throughout our history special invitations for deserving international players have always been carefully considered,” said Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley. “We are pleased to continue this tradition by welcoming Shugo Imahira to our field this year based on his impressive record during the past 12 months. We look forward to hosting him and all of our Masters competitors in April.”

Imahira will tee it up at this week’s Sony Open, where he made the cut last year—so American golf fans can familiarise themselves a bit with Imahira before Augusta National.

In recent months, there’s been clamouring—at least, on Golf Twitter—for another Asian golfer to get such a nod. South Korea’s Ho-sung Choi’s quirky swing and on-course antics made him a viral sensation in 2018 when he picked up his second career JGT win at the Casio World Open. A petition for the popular Choi to get a sponsor’s exemption into this month’s Waste Management Phoenix Open has also received more than 5,000 online signatures. Choi is currently ranked 198th in the world.

India’s Shubhankar Sharma received a special invitation last year, the first player to get one since 2013. The Masters doesn’t extend special invitations often, in part because of a preference to keep field size manageable. Last year’s 87 players was the fewest in 21 years.

But for those still hoping to see Hosung at Augusta National this year, there’s still time. Sharma’s invite didn’t come until March of last year when he was fresh off a T-9 at the 2018 WGC-Mexico Championship after being the 54-hole leader. And there’s also precedence of the club doling out two such invites in the same year. In 2013, Ryo Ishikawa and Thaworn Wiratchant both received one.

Of course, players still have an opportunity to play their way into the tournament as well. Any win of a PGA Tour awarding full FedEx Cup points between now and the Valero Texas Open (April 4-7) get in. And so will anyone in the top 50 of the Official World Golf Ranking—there’s a good chance Imahira might not wind up even needing the special invite—on April 1.

The 83rd Masters is scheduled for April 11-14.

 

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